Tag Archives: Democrats

Honesty about disaster

Several years ago, I wrote in Cotton’s Library about the political breakdown which flummoxed the Jacobean antiquarian and courtier, Sir Robert Cotton:

In evaluating his political career, Cotton comes across as a Jacobean Cicero. Like the influential senator at the end of Rome’s republic, Cotton stood in the very middle of a constitutional system buckling and splintering under strain, yet never saw any possible solution but voluntary moderation of the competing forces. The relatively respectful and effective interplay between Elizabeth and her parliaments during Cotton’s early life always remained his model of how English government worked. As political relations deteriorated under the Stuarts he did not see a failure of the system; the system was perfect, and the need for change lay not with it, but with the people within it.

I have since concluded that, in a sense, Cotton’s attitude was both wrong and right, about a political paradox which may be universal. I feel confident that some political systems are so flawed as to be unworkable, but I have begun to suspect that there may not be any set of rules and institutions so perfect that they remain effective when too many people simply stop believing in them.

That’s now happening right in front of us, in America.

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Vaccines and HyperNormalisation

Personally, things are going okay at this moment. On Wednesday I got the second half of my two-part “$2,000 check,” and the first half of my two-part COVID-19 vaccination. I’m doing some work for clients. Cleaning up around the apartment.

I can’t deny a feeling of emergence, especially because of a personal feeling of emerging from something like a five-year fugue state. I have written a number of times about a similar feeling, after recent elections, as though I had somehow been absent from my own life during extended preoccupation with campaigns, then one day came back to find months had gone by. This feels something like that except for years instead of months.

The end of the 2020 election and its long overtime, plus winter, plus social distancing, plus perhaps the slow start to 2021 campaigns, kind of put me in a place to slow down and reflect for more than in years. But browsing some blog posts from 2015 (like this or this) really made me realize that in terms of thinking about my life, the place I’m in lately is a lot like one I reached five or six years ago. Then activism and related activities began to mushroom, pushing me out of that place for five years. For all the ways that transformed my life, and probably my self, it is now like I’m back confronting very similar deep questions.

Also shit is still just on fire around me which does complicate things.

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Improv pandemi-coup-cession

Political processes and ordered society itself are fundamentally a form of theater which most people agree to take more or less seriously. When that goes it all goes.

This observation, which I made a couple of weeks ago about the significance of even performative cosplay coup attempts, is about as close as I can get to any kind of theme at the moment.

What’s the use, after all? I have been addressing this for a while in various ways; you don’t “organize to fight” faced with a hurricane; if you’re pushing on a rope then “try, try again” is not a virtue. In recent years I have dreamed up increasingly unlikely scenarios for how America might be repaired and renewed from within existing systems, while recognizing the trend away from plausibility with each new corruption of the system.

At this point I think the motion away from plausible repair scenarios has reached escape velocity. What does one do, say, or think amid this? Even believing that intervention still matters, a big picture ongoing cluster-crisis is kind of distracting. So I will try to collect some scattered thoughts in an assortment package, since developing all or even most of them as complete essays may never happen.

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When democracy was set back more than a century

Many Democrats would probably agree that George W. Bush’s capture of the presidency, 20 years ago, was a big injury for democracy.

It was, but the biggest injury was inflicted by default, by Al Gore and other leading Democrats, well before Florida’s “hanging chads” and the Supreme Court entered the picture.

At the start of 2000 it was not at all destiny that “the Electoral College decides, not the voters” would become a 21st century rule. What we think of as “how the Electoral College works” is an extra-constitutional custom which emerged after its intended operation jammed hopelessly in the 1796 election. As of 2000, this mechanism was in practice little more than a footnote, as the winner of the most votes had always become president for more than a century.

Realistically the Electoral College had never overturned a majority vote of the people prior to 2000, because in previous splits with “the popular vote” there was no real popular vote. In the 1888 election, the vote was still denied to women, to most nonwhites, and to all adults under 21. More than a century later, there was no precedent for the Electoral College to overturn a free and fair election with universal adult suffrage. Nor was it inevitable that such would be the case. Republicans fully intended to delegitimize the Electoral College if it disfavored them, as many believed it might that year:

NY Daily News: So what if Gore wins such crucial battleground states as Florida, Michigan and Pennsylvania and thus captures the magic 270 electoral votes while Bush wins the overall nationwide popular vote?

“The one thing we don’t do is roll over,” says a Bush aide. “We fight.”

How? The core of the Bush strategy assumed a popular uprising, stoked by the Bushies themselves, of course. In league with the campaign – which prepared talking points about the Electoral College’s essential unfairness – a massive talk-radio operation would be encouraged.

“We’d have ads, too,” said a Bush aide, “and I think you can count on the media to fuel the thing big-time. Even papers that supported Gore might turn against him because the will of the people will have been thwarted.

Republicans got to enjoy the benefit of planning to raise hell, if the Electoral College turned out to disfavor them, then having their opponents defer to it as proper and fair when it turned out the other way.

This was a huge, hugely costly mistake.

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2020 Primary: Plus ça change…

I tried watching one of the Democratic Primary Debates, some months ago. It was basically unwatchable.

It’s just deeply awkward and unpleasant, for one thing; not only does it seem much like the collision of noises in a typical ESPN yelling-heads show, it’s worse because in theory the presidential debate is consequential and it certainly imposes this debasement on some genuinely intelligent people.

In a bigger sense, it’s hard to keep watching when it’s fairly obvious, before the debate even begins, that it’s basically a ritualized, desperate waving around of American culture’s absurd decay. The set design would have seemed like a grotesque parody if you showed it to someone a few decades ago. As visual metaphor for a culture trapped in rituals which no longer function, yet so hollow it can manage no response except to tart them up with ever more neon and mirrors, it would be rather hamfisted. Except this is what passes for reality. This reduction of national dialogue to a ridiculous game show, in both function and form, is not critical art but a miserable cynic’s disgusted counsel of despair.

lol, says the debate format, nothing anyone does matters just give up.

The debate content and the larger primary provided a lot of support for that counsel, and some interesting but very limited exceptions to it.

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Party secretary

Thursday night, the Lakewood Democratic Club* elected me to be secretary for 2019-20.

Thanks everyone who supported my second bid for elected office, ever.

Twenty years ago, I made an almost literally last-minute bid to be president of Harwood House in the residence halls at Iowa State University. I won a plurality in the three-candidate election which followed. I took office at the beginning of my junior year, aged 20, and went on to be probably just about the best president which Harwood ever had. (Not making this out to be a stupendous accomplishment, but for what it’s worth that is my honest non-exaggerated estimate.)

I’m now 40, and in January I will presumably take office as Democratic Club secretary (barring some low-odds circumstance like the club disbanding first). Time flies.

I’m also two-for-two in bids for elected office, and in a sense for asterisks. First time out, as noted I only won with a plurality. This time, I campaigned diligently for members’ votes, only for the other candidate to withdraw 24 hours before the meeting, with the result that I was unopposed and waved in by voice vote.

Oh well. In politics, one is grateful for victories as and where one finds them!

* Now that the club is officially a PAC, it is for practical purposes basically a city party. Thus I title this post “party secretary” because the sound of it amuses me.

Context and Ohio Democrats

Ohio. Something of a disappointing outlier in an election where Democrats did well in neighbors Michigan and Pennsylvania, in addition to the nation as a whole. So for about a week we have been gradually starting a conversation about what this means, and what if anything is to be done.

Here’s the entire conversation for Democrats IMO: This is political party strength in Ohio since 1978, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Democrats in blue

As best I can judge, Ohio Democrats have not had a useful statewide organization since the mid-1980s, at which time presumably the party was coasting toward its early 1990s capsizing.

Since then?

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2017 politics & Senator-elect Jones

There are a lot of year-end takes on 2017 politics, and at this point I’m not sure that I really need one. Looking back, I find that much of what I wrote a year ago about the big picture holds up.

I think Matthew Yglesias has a good review of the past year which is positive while still realistic. (There are also more pessimistic assessments, which are probably all too realistic, but they just kind of leave me blank.) I plan to write about the specifics of my own year of #resistance this weekend.

Otherwise, in general, I feel like the election of Doug Jones as Alabama’s next senator captures much of the broader American political situation right now:

  1. An astonishing, inspiring, against the odds victory for decency, thanks in no small part to grassroots energy
  2. Which may nonetheless not really matter that much, by itself.

This seems like the executive summary of the #resistance after one year. Ordinary people have put up an amazing fight, and have as Yglesias suggests probably made a difference that is surprising, all things considered.

But this amazing year also ended with a big reminder that the people in power are still capable of ignoring popular resistance, and anything short of taking their power away from them.

Doug Jones’s victory seems to summarize all this. It was possibly the best news all year, and I’m very proud to have supported his campaign in small ways. Yet Republicans still have the presidency and 50 senate seats, and as long as they do, they’re going to go on corrupting and abusing the power of America’s government.

So, we have some reason to believe that our efforts can change things… and we have every reason to believe that more change is needed.

I like the little “How Will You Remember 2017” photo montage that the History Channel has been running. I particularly like the short version which ends with a photo of Jones’s victory party, however, not only because it’s an appealing year-end image, but because it also seems like an apt year-end story.

The Anglophone left and discipline through -isms

I imagine that politics is nearly always a convoluted mess of fractal coalitions, and ruthless undercutting of enemies and “allies” alike. Perhaps it gets more noticeable as one gets older, though.

This week, I’ve been thinking about one or two more relatively bizarre examples. It may in part be a product of spending so much time immersed in the politics of #Brexit, and getting them conflated with American matters. But then plenty of participants on either side of the Atlantic have promoted the idea that there are common dynamics at work, so I suppose it’s fair game for me.

In any event I feel more and more like the establishment-left coalitions, both here and in the UK, are wielding certain topics as disciplinary cudgels as ruthlessly as any right-wing strategist has ever done. The Brexit debate has seen plentiful slime on all sides, certainly, but presuming that Remain is about to win [edit: oops!] I wonder if their success is partly achieved by more aggressively denigrating their opponents. It seems as though anyone who favored Leave, for any reason, was immediately condemned for being xenophobic, Islamophobic, “simply crazy” and indifferent to the poor.* Call me biased if you will, but I have a difficult time coming up with a comparable list for the other side; plenty of people for Leave have said vile things but I just haven’t perceived an equivalent unified execration of the people who favored Remain, themselves.

In any event, considering this got me thinking about how much of the American left uses similar tactics for policing dissent, and that led me to one particularly novel illustration. It seems like at present—having as they do all too many real examples to hand just like in Britain—liberal America’s elites and their followers readily charge opponents with Islamophobia and take for granted that this is simply indefensible. Personally I think it basically is, and I don’t feel like America’s left is actually being over-broad in applying the label, to date. What gets me, though, is that much of this same establishment-left will not tolerate criticism of the Israeli government. So if you suggest that (the predominantly Muslim) Palestinians are victims of abuse… the same coalition that regards Islamophobia as unequivocally unforgivable will unite against you, and warn darkly of antisemitism.

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2016 Democratic presidential strategy note

I wrote this post months ago, but it’s now actually 2016—the 2016 presidential election is only 10 months away—so I’ll finally give up my conscientious objection to obsessing over presidential politics for this cycle.

I’m also going to address “strategic voting,” another object of distaste. Specifically, I want to address other prospective Democratic Party primary voters, many of whom will be voting before I do.

For those who actually want to see Hillary Clinton president, there may not be much I can say. If you really want, in the words of Conor Friedersdorf, “a Patriot Act-supporting, mass-surveillance-enabling hawk who opposed gay marriage throughout the years when it mattered most, still favors the death penalty, and would re-enter the White House having cozied up particularly close to Big Finance,” then we may just be too far apart for meaningful discussion.

Perhaps I’ll try anyway, later, but for now I want to address those who are less eager for such a candidacy, but worry about “electability.” Particularly when it comes to the leading alternative, Bernie Sanders. I know from anecdotal experience as well as independent reports that a number of fellow Democrats worry, in spite of their personal preferences, that he would be too “fringe” for the general electorate and that it would be better to settle for the “safe choice” of Hillary Clinton. For these persons, a couple of reminders.

n.b. I happen to favor Mr. Sanders’s campaign, myself, so I’m not simply speculating on “the political strategy machinations” or concern-trolling.

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